As a teenager, Don Shaffer's first job was at a country club, caddying for some of the most successful men in America. On weekends, he had a front row seat to conversations between Wall Street traders and executives that most investors would die to listen in on. The experience inspired him to go into finance, but not for the reasons one might assume.
"Basically, none of them could explain what they did to me," Shaffer recalled of the executives he met weekly. "I come from a long line of Quaker farmers and small-business people in the Philadelphia area, and my father was a sheets and towels salesman. I was confused as to why the wealthiest and highest-status people couldn't describe what they did. Since then I have been obsessed with the financial system and how it works, and with making it so finance is serving businesses and the economy, instead of the other way around."
Today, Shaffer tries to live that mission every day as the President and CEO of RSF Social Finance, an "impact investing" fund that specializes in direct lending to social enterprises.
The goal of impact investments is to provide not only a financial return, but also a significant, measurable social return. Funds like RSF channel money into companies that produce everything from solar lanterns in Africa to sustainable grasslands in Australia. These social enterprises are seeking a "double bottom line" -- creating products that are both profitable and benefit communities.